WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown’s (D-Ohio) office issued a press release recently praising the DEA for its proposal to reduce the production of prescription opioids, a measure recommended by Brown at a meeting with the agency’s top administrator on August 3. The proposal, if adopted, would reduce the amount of prescription opioids produced in the U.S. by 20 percent in 2018. The agency already places quotas on the production of these drugs.
“We all have a role to play in combatting the opioid epidemic,” Brown said, “and this step shows the DEA is committed to playing its part in our efforts. Of course there is still more for us to do – from investing in communities on the frontlines of the epidemic, to stopping illegal shipments of drugs at our borders.”
According to the press statement, opioid production was reduced by 25 percent in 2017, a measure also backed by former Ohio governor Brown. Brown has also worked on other prospective measures aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic, including eliminating caps on the number of beds Medicaid can cover at substance abuse treatment facilities, expanding use of medication-assisted treatments for addiction, and increasing access to overdose reversal drugs and drug detection equipment among law enforcement and other first responders.
Ohio Representative Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) isn’t so sure about the DEA’s plan, however. A physician and former Miami County coroner, Huffman had some sobering thoughts to add to the debate.
“What we need to realize,” said Huffman, “and people often don’t, is that people have legitimate, chronic pain that we need to treat.” The DEA’s plan, according to Huffman, would penalize law-abiding patients alongside those struggling with addiction.
“As a policy, we can’t set a number as to how many pills we can put out,” Huffman said, “because if we do that, people will suffer.”
Huffman also stated that physicians are already policing themselves in this regard, having lowered the amount of narcotics they prescribe by 20 percent over the past several years.
“So the number is already going down on its own,” said Huffman.
According to Huffman, medical professionals already follow a set of rules known as Acute Prescribing Guidelines, which limit prescriptions of powerful pain medications to 7-day increments, with no refills. This forces doctors to closely monitor patients who are being prescribed such medication, as well as encouraging them to consider alternative pain management treatments such as medical massage and physical therapy.
In addition, mandatory reporting procedures exist that not only allow physicians to monitor how much pain medication a patient is prescribed – as well as how many narcotics a particular doctor is prescribing – but also provide a process for penalizing physicians who overprescribe. Huffman feels these safeguards aren’t being taken advantage of, however.
“If a doctor works exclusively with broken bones, or with terminal patients in hospice,” said Huffman, “it’s understandable that they may prescribe a large amount of narcotics. But if a family doctor is prescribing 100 pills for a toothache or an ankle sprain, that’s not appropriate.”
Ultimately, Huffman feels that no one law or simple measure will be able to solve these problems.
“The opiate epidemic is a horrible situation,” Huffman said. “But we’re trying to do little things at a time to get us going in the right direction.”